Najla Bouden Romdhane becomes first female Prime Minister in Arab world

Najla Bouden Romdhane

Amid the ongoing political crisis in Tunisia, President Kais Saied has named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known professor of geophysics, as Prime Minister – the first female head of any Arab nation.

Romdhane, who has experience in implementing World Bank projects in the education sector, has been asked to quickly form a government and announce a cabinet.

Saied, as a head of state, assumed wide-ranging executive powers in July after suspending parliament and dismissing previous Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi who was from the Islamic-oriented An Nahdha party.

Saied, a secularist, has also suspended much of the 2014 constitution and announced that he will rule by decree – which provoked streets protests over the weekend.

In an address in which Romdhane did not speak, Saied said: “Given the exceptional situation the country is going through, I decided to entrust you with forming a new government, you are the first female head of government in the history of our nation.

“We will work together with strength and determination to eradicate corruption and put an end to the chaos. I hope you will manage to propose the composition of the government in the coming hours and days, in accordance with the provisions of the last exceptional measures.”

Kais Saied. Editorial credit: Hussein Eddeb

The president has been under domestic as well as international pressure to announce a new government after his dismissal of the previous Prime Minister.

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In a video address that was posted on the country’s presidency Facebook page, he added: “We have lost a lot of time and I have honoured Tunisian women by appointing her as Prime Minister. The new government should confront corruption and respond to the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all fields, including health, transport and education.”

It is thought that Romdhane won’t have much direct power as compared to previous prime ministers as the government will be answerable to the president.

The country has been in political as well as a financial crisis for some time now, aggravated by infighting between secularists and Islamists and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has left thousands dead.

A political outsider, Romdhane was born in 1958 in Kairouan and was recently serving as a professor at the prestigious National Engineering School in Tunis. She has also served in the Ministry of Higher Education as director-general in charge of quality.

She will be the 10th Prime Minister of the country since the 2011 uprising that was sparked by the death of a vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire.

His death sparked a wave of protests across Tunisia that saw the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. It became a catalyst for the Arab revolutions that ensued.

Unlike other countries that saw people rising up violently against their rulers, Tunisia is the only country that emerged from chaos and transitioned towards a democratic system. However, nothing much has changed economically for the people due to raging corruption and dysfunctional politics.

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